The top Treasury Department employee who was arrested and charged by federal authorities with leaking confidential financial documents pertaining to former Trump officials was apprehended with a flash drive containing the allegedly pilfered information in her hand, prosecutors said Wednesday.
The dramatic arrest late Tuesday came on the heels of other high-profile, leak-related prosecutions under the Trump administration, which has pledged to go on the offensive against leakers that the president has called “traitors and cowards.”
Natalie Mayflower Sours Edwards, 40, a senior official at the department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), is accused of illegally giving a reporter bank reports documenting several suspicious financial transactions, known as Suspicious Activity Reports (“SARs”), from October 2017 to the present. The financial transactions involved Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort, campaign official Richard Gates, accused Russian agent Maria Butina and the Russian Embassy, federal law enforcement officials said Wednesday.
An unidentified, higher-ranking Treasury colleague was cited in court papers as a co-conspirator with Edwards, but was not charged. That person, identified only as an “associate director” at FinCEN to whom Edwards reported, exchanged more than 300 messages with a reporter via an encrypted messaging application.
Edwards saved the SARs, “along with thousands of other files containing sensitive government information,” to a government-provided flash drive, prosecutors said. She transmitted the SARs to the reporter by “taking photographs of them and texting the photographs” using an encrypted application, according to charging documents.
The journalist’s name was not disclosed in court papers. But the documents list about a dozen stories published by Buzzfeed News over the past year-and-a half, including an article headlined, “GOP Operative Made ‘Suspicious’ Cash Withdrawals During Pursuit of Clinton Emails.” A spokesman for Buzzfeed declined to comment.
The case is apparently the first criminal prosecution arising from leaks about individuals targeted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in the course of its Russia investigation. Manafort was found guilty earlier this year of various bank and tax crimes; his associate, Gates, pleaded guilty.
In a hearing Wednesday afternoon, federal magistrate judge Theresa Buchanan released Edwards on her own personal recognizance on Wednesday, subject to the custody of her parents. She and her parents also signed a $100,000 bond as part of her release. Edwards, who appeared in court wearing street clothes, faces two charges, each one carrying a maximum sentence of five years and a $250,000 fine. She is due back in court Nov. 2.
Edwards is currently on administrative leave at Treasury, FinCen spokesman Steve Hudak said. Banks must file the suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department when they spot transactions that raise questions about possible financial misconduct such as money laundering. When federal agents confronted Edwards this week, she described herself as a whistleblower and said she had provided the reports to the reporter for “record-keeping,” the court papers said.
“Today’s action demonstrates that those who fail to protect the integrity of government information will be rightfully held accountable.”
“In her position, Edwards was entrusted with sensitive government information. As we allege here today, Edwards violated that trust when she made several unauthorized disclosures to the media,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge William F. Sweeney Jr. said in a statement. “Today’s action demonstrates that those who fail to protect the integrity of government information will be rightfully held accountable for their behavior.”
Geoffrey Berman, the U.S. attorney in Manhattan, where the criminal complaint was filed, said Edwards “betrayed her position of trust by repeatedly disclosing highly sensitive information.” Edwards is alleged to have taken photographs of the confidential documents and sent them to a reporter using an encrypted messaging app, according to court documents. Edwards also sent the reporter internal Treasury Department emails, investigative memos and intelligence assessments, prosecutors allege.
According to court papers, federal investigators obtained a court order to monitor the calls to and from the unnamed associate director’s personal cellphone who allegedly conspired with Edwards. That monitoring captured the frequency of contacts with the reporter via the encrypted messaging application.
Court papers do not detail the contents of those messages. “Protecting sensitive information is one of our most critical responsibilities, and it is a role that we take very seriously,” said Sigal Mandelker, the Treasury Department’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.
The prosecution is the latest in a series of leak-related prosecutions brought by the Trump administration, which has vowed to combat unauthorized disclosures. Earlier this year, President Trump said that “leakers are traitors and cowards,” and he vowed that “we will find out who they are!”
Edwards’ arrest comes after a former security director for the Senate Intelligence Committee pleaded guilty to one count of giving a false statement to FBI agents looking into leaks of national security information to several reporters — including one now at the New York Times whom he dated before she joined the paper.
James Wolfe, who served as the Senate panel’s security director, lied to the FBI in December 2017 about contacts he had with three reporters, according to a statement of offense released Monday as part of his guilty plea. He also allegedly lied about giving two reporters non-public information about committee matters. His guilty plea on Monday to one count means that the other two counts against him will be dismissed.
And, just weeks ago, once-secret text messages revealed that anti-Trump ex-FBI officials Peter Strzok and Lisa Page had discussed a “media leak strategy” amid the Russia probe. Strzok and former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe were both fired for their conduct during that probe.
“I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go,” Strzok texted Page on April 10, 2017, according to Meadows, who cited newly produced documents from the Justice Department.
On April 22, Strzok wrote, “article is out! Well done, Page,” and on April 12 he told her that two negative articles about Page’s “namesake” would soon come out, according to Meadows. That was an apparent reference to Carter Page, the former Trump adviser whom the FBI surveilled for months after obtaining a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court.
Republicans have charged that the FBI provided misleading or inaccurate information to the FISA court to obtain the warrant. In particular, the FBI incorrectly suggested to the FISA court that a Yahoo News article provided an independent basis to monitor Page, when that article relied on the same source the FBI had cited earlier: ex-spy Christopher Steele, who worked for a firm hired by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and the Hillary Clinton campaign. Page on Monday announced he was suing the DNC and other entities for allegedly spreading false and defamatory reports about his supposed dealings with Russians.
Fox News’ Jake Gibson, Adam Shaw, and The Associated Press contributed to this report.